Friday, June 26, 2009

Draft Diary...

The other night, I was privileged enough to attend my first live NBA Draft. Taking a Bill Simmons approach to the experience, I decided to document my thoughts. I'm gonna keep it under 17,000 words though.

Here goes.

4:47 pm - All aboard the train to New York Penn Station. Air-conditioned -- beautiful. I was worried I'd be sweating to death in my Dockers and button-down. I had been advised to dress nice, against my wishes, in case my girlfriend's aunt could take us into some VIP action.

5:15 pm - I realize I'm holding the smallest notebook in the world. Keeping it under 17,000 words shouldn't be a problem.

5:16 pm - I realize I brought a notebook to the NBA Draft. Not exactly one of my "cooler" moments.

6:01 pm - Sat down to a lovely dinner at Nick & Stef's Steakhouse outside the garden. Filet - quite good. Caesar salad - average. Saw ESPN's very own, Chris Broussard in a private room interviewing somebody. It bothers me I have no idea who it was. It was here, I also learned from a drunk woman that she thought Michael Jackson might be dead. I thought she was two apple martinis past her limit, but it sadly turned out she was right.

6:37 pm - I see Anthony Mason signing autographs outside the stadium. This is going to be a pretty cool night.

6:43 pm - Good ole' Craig Sager walks right by me. He's rocking an outrageous orange suit. The man knows how to stand out in a group of thousands.

6:45 pm - VIP action turns out to be the second to last row on the left side. The side Stuart Scott and the gang were reporting on. The side with the giant cameras capturing Scott and the gang, obstructing my view of the stage.

7:33 pm - Draft time. After David Stern announced that the Clippers had five minutes on the clock I was expecting him to immediately turn around upon entering his door to announce that the Clippers had selected Blake Griffin. I guess the Clippers wanted to wait the full five minutes for dramatic effect.

7:39 pm - "With the first selection in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers select... Blake Griffin". Shocking.

7:40 pm - I notice everyone in the section next to me is leaning over the railing leading to the nearest Exit. Why would they do this? They seem loyal to the Draft. Could the players be coming this way?

7:46 pm - I thought they only had five minutes to make a pick. Hasheem Thabeet. He's even taller in person.

7:47 pm - From this point on, I become increasingly nervous David Stern is going to say Stephen Curry before the Knicks are on the clock.

7:49 pm - Suddenly there's quite a commotion to my left. As I glance over, I see Blake Griffin walking up the aisle towards our back corner. I knew those kids were leaning over the railing for a reason! Fortunately for me, I had an aisle seat right next to the railing. Unfortunately for me, I was still in the second to last row. As Griffin made his way through the exit trail below us, I took a quick picture of the security guards in front of him and reached as far as I could over the railing for a high five. Let's start the DAP count. I was on the left, at the highest point above the walkway to the exit, but I was thinking, "Ya know, I'm 6'2. I could pull this off." Sadly for me, the players exit out the right door into the hallway. So the guy before me was basically the last DAP recipient before the players avoid the people on the left (me), DAP the last guy on the right (the guy across from me), and make way to the interview rooms for the next two hours. DAP count: 0.

7:52 pm - Anyone but Curry. Anyone but Curry. James Harden. Yes!!! I don't think Oklahoma City could have picked anyone better from the perspective of a Knicks fan.

7:53 pm - Did I just admit I was a Knicks fan?

7:57 pm - Please don't be Curry. Please don't be Curry. Tyreke Evans. This might just happen!

7:59 pm - Focused too much on taking a blurry picture of Thabeet. Didn't spend enough time trying to get some DAP from the tall man. He's 7'3". What was I thinking? That may have been my only chance. DAP count: 0.

8:03 pm - The T-Wolves take Ricky Rubio. We're getting so close here.

[Let me take the time to say that I think Ricky Rubio is highly-overrated. He averaged 4 points and 3 assists in the Olympics. Why do stats like that in Europe make you a lottery pick? I will never understand that.]

8:10 pm - As long as the T-Wolves don't take Flynn or Curry, I'm satisfied. And why would they? They already have a point guard and they need size. Their starting power forward last season was an undrafted Free Agent out of Providence. Jonny Flynn. You selfish bastards! The Knicks are screwed.

8:15 pm - Agony is about to strike. There's no escaping it. But I can still hope. Stephen Curry. Ah, it sucks to be a Knicks fan again. Talk about sucking the life out of Madison Square Garden.

8:21 pm - Alright. Surprise me with something. Anyone but Jrue Holiday or Jordan Hill. Jordan Hill. That's just not fair. I think it's time I officially put the Hornets ahead of the Knicks as my favorite team. Ehh, I guess I'll wait until the Knicks manage to blow signing anyone significant from the loaded free agent class of 2010.

8:31 pm - Jordan Hill gets a welcome "wish you were Stephen Curry" from our section, as he extends my DAP Count to zero. It's gonna be a rough few years Hill.

I spent the next 30 minutes reflecting on the fact that the Knicks had put me through a miserable season just so, come draft time, they could get a guy like Jordan Hill. Thanks guys.

9:02 pm - Austin Daye goes to the Pistons. At this point I had moseyed my way down a few steps, and was ready to be denied in my quest for DAP once again. Now I wasn't quite sure who Austin Daye was, but I quickly became a fan when my outstretched arms grazed his fingertips as he walked down our aisle. DAP count: 1!

9:02 pm - I realize Austin Daye is probably the last player at the draft, and that my DAP count may very well be over already.

9:19 pm - Oh man. Here we go again. The T-Wolves. Why don't you go for another point guard guys? Ty Lawson is still available. Ty Lawson. Now that's just ridiculous. This is sabotage.

9:45 pm - Darren Collison gets drafted by my future favorite team, the Hornets. And he's here! Easy DAP.

9:55 pm - Now that I have my prime DAP spot, I easily get a solid high five from Collison. It's amazing how good it feels to get DAPped by a player you're not even that big a fan of. DAP count: 2. Hey, I wonder when the players will be returning from their interviews to go see their families again? Maybe they'll come back this way?

10:00 pm - Three minutes after I left my DAP spot to have a seat, Hasheem Thabeet comes right past my spot, returning from an interview. Talk about bad timing. He gave the only kid there an emphatic high-five. That could've been my DAP.

10:01 pm - I'm ready to wait here all night for some DAP.

10:02 pm - Okay, maybe just until my train.

10:04 pm - Rodrigue Beaubois DAP. I'm just as unsure as you are.

10:15 pm - The Knicks have made a trade. Come on Curry, Flynn, heck I'll take Rubio. Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic. This has to be a nightmare. Wasn't he the guy that helped Lebron off the stage and helped Carmelo onto the stage a few years ago at the draft? It's only fitting he's a Knick on this night.

10:17 pm - At this point, my DAP count officially begins. Starting with Tyreke Evans.

10:17 pm - After giving up cash considerations to the Lakers, the Knicks were ready to make their second pick of the first round. I was expecting them to trade it away for the rights to Ronaldo Balkman after everything else they had screwed up on this lovely evening. But they took Toney Douglas. Not bad. Not bad. Could've been worse.

10:22 pm - Jonny Flynn DAP.

10:26 pm - Ricky Rubio.

10:28 pm - Jrue Holiday.

10:30 pm - DeMar DeRozan

10:40 pm - The #1 pick himself, Blake Griffin, walks through the door. As he walks down the aisle he gives me a look that says, "Yeah, I'm gonna give you some DAP". We both knew exactly what was up. Griffin emphatically slapped my hand, accepted my congratulations, and I'm assuming at that point knew, it was time to embark on his NBA career.

10:45 pm - I might as well stick around five more minutes for Curry, since my train isn't until 11:12. Why not?

10:48 pm - The doors open, and out comes Curry. The should've been New York Knick himself. Curry DAPs me. I ask if there was any chance he could take a quick picture with me. He tells me he can't and that he's sorry. I accept his apology, and with that, my first NBA Draft experience comes to a close.

10:51 pm - One last look at the stage as I walk towards the exit. DAP count: 10.

Maybe next year New York.

Image taken from

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Taste of Redemption...

Last night, for the second time this year, Kobe Bryant tasted a glass of redemption. And judging by the smile the size of Texas on his face, it tasted pretty good.

Roughly one year ago, a dejected Kobe Bryant walked off the court at the Staples Center, in arguably the toughest loss of his career, as it rained green and white all around him. But there was no time to sulk. It was on to Olympic training. There were less than two months for Team USA to make its final preparations for the Olympics, and the clock was ticking. Even after the tragic loss, Bryant didn't miss a beat. In fact, his work ethic impressed 11 of the greatest players in the NBA. By late August, he and his teammates were the Redeem Team.

There was no time for Bryant to rest at that point in time either. The NBA season was starting in two months. 82 Regular season games. 23 playoff games. One more feeling of redemption. And Kobe can finally rest.

Last night, the Lakers left no doubt in the eyes of NBA fans -- it was clear LA was the best team in basketball. In a battle of the last two heavyweights standing, Orlando fired its last punch at the start of Game 5, jumping out to an early 15-6 lead. But Los Angeles weathered the storm, chipping away at the lead in the first, before unleashing an onslaught of punches in the second, which would ultimately lead to the final knockout blow that sent the Magic to the locker room with their heads down.

It was pretty obvious from the second quarter on that the Lakers would have an answer for everything the Magic could throw at them. No one could deny the Lakers. No one could deny Bryant.

It took Bryant quite some time to realize the secret to success. It must have been hard to imagine for him that as the best player in the NBA for all these years, the key to success wasn't him making all the shots. It was him making the right decisions. The right reads, the right shots, the right passes. His coach and teammates made him realize that. And that's when redemption became a reality.

Bryant couldn't have won his first three titles by himself. He didn't. And he definitely didn't win his fourth title by himself either.

Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, and Trevor Ariza were HUGE in this series.

Gasol shot 60% from the field, averaging over 18 points and 9 rebounds per game. He also drew fouls on Dwight Howard on both the offensive and defensive end. He showed the toughness and strength he lacked in last year's Finals, vindicating all the hard work and time he spent improving his physicality throughout the year.

Derek Fisher hit two of the most clutch shots in NBA Finals history in Game 4, destroying any confidence Orlando had, and closing the door on any hopes of a championship for Orlando as well. He played solid defense throughout the series, and was always there to deliver a dagger on offense.

Lamar Odom proved to be the perfect match for Rashard Lewis. He saw a lot of time off the bench, and made the most out of every minute. He played confident, made huge plays, and hit big-time shots the entire series. Orlando had no answer for him.

Trevor Ariza was probably the most valuable player in my eyes. His defense was phenomenal. His energy, unmatched. It didn't seem like anyone on the Magic wanted it as much as this kid. He out-hustled everyone, shot lights out from three, and made so many big plays in big moments. I also believe he sparked the turning point in Game 5 for the Lakers.

With the game still close in the second quarter, Ariza and Hedo Turkoglu got into an altercation before a timeout. After the break, I watched their matchup to see how they would react to the fight. Right off the bat Turkoglu went at Ariza, but Ariza's defense picked up tremendously. He forced Turkoglu to take an off-balance shot, then came down and hit two threes on the next few possessions. Turkoglu would continue to try and one-up Ariza, but failed everytime, because of Ariza's great defense. Before I knew it, the Lakers had gone on a 16-0 run, and they never looked back. The Lakers can thank Ariza for that. I truly believe it's one of the main reasons the series isn't going back to LA right now.

With the victory, the Lakers added to their legacy of excellence, winning their 15th title in franchise history. Phil Jackson separated himself from the great Red Auerbach, winning his 10th career title -- a feat unmatched in any of the four major sports. He has to be considered the greatest basketball coach of all-time. He won't admit it. But it's an unbelieveable, and unparalleled accomplishment. The numbers don't lie.

Speaking of numbers, Bryant now has 4 NBA titles, 1 without Shaq (had to mention it), and ties O'Neal, Duncan, and Fisher for the most among active players. Bryant's legacy rivals the best in the history of the sport, but I don't think it's fair to compare him to his Airness, Michael Jordan. In eight years, Jordan went 6-6 in the Finals, and did things that can only make us dream to be "Like Mike". Bryant will forever be one of the best players in my eyes, though. I never thought he needed to prove his legacy on his own, but it's nice that he did. I don't think anyone could help but feel happy for Kobe last night. The joy on his face showed every ounce of effort he put into reaching this accomplishment. He truly deserved it.

As for the Magic, they truly didn't deserve it. They blew golden opportunities, showed inexperience and flaws throughout the series, and seemed overmatched from the get-go. There's definitely a lot the Magic can improve on, which is pretty scary if you think about it. Howard has so much potential. Nelson can be so good when healthy. They have a lot of young players with a lot of growing to do. This can be the team to beat for years to come with a lot of effort. They just have to stay together and really work on improving their flaws.

Only time will tell if the Magic will stay together though. Just a day after the Finals, Turkoglu has already opted out of his contract, and may not be returning next year. Turkoglu was their go-to player in the clutch, and might arguably be their best player. This would be a catastrophic loss for the Magic.

Orlando also has to decide what to do with Rafer Alston. It obviously didn't work having Jameer Nelson and Alston split minutes. It was a poor decision to bring Nelson back at that time, and may be one that will haunt them forever. These two need to be split. You can't have two starting point guards on one team, and expect to keep them happy.

As for now, the only players happy are the ones on the Lakers. And the only question that lies ahead is: If this team sticks together, can the Lakers do it again next year? If history has anything to say about it, they will. Phil Jackson has three 3-Peats to his name. Everytime he goes through a gap of not winning a title, he comes back and wins three in a row.

Hey Kobe. Can you do that without Shaq?

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Let the Festivities Begin...

Now that Vitamin Water's dreams have been crushed by Dwight Howard and the Magic, it's time to accept that the Lakers will not be playing the Cavs in the Finals. Like most of America, I'm disappointed to see Lebron's un-Earthly season go, but hey, he gave us some good times. It's time to appreciate the quality matchup ahead.

The matchups between the Cavs and the Magic, were anything but quality. Rashard Lewis vs. Anderson Varejao? Come on. I think I could write another article on the problems with that matchup alone. Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. the most athletic center in recent history? Yeah right. Ilgauskas looked like he was running in quick sand. But even unfathomably worse than the matchup choices for Cleveland, was their defensive scheme. Honestly, what was Mike Brown thinking?

Gee, let's double and triple team Dwight Howard all game when his four teammates are unconscious from three. In the first four games the Magic shot 43% from deep. Rashard Lewis shot 58% in that stretch, which literally isn't real. Imagine if Jameer Nelson had been healthy for the series. He shot 45% from behind the arc this year. His replacement, Rafer Alston, shot only 38% for the series. It could've been ugly for the Cavs. Well, uglier I guess.

In the Conference Finals, the Magic demonstrated that their offense was lethal. Possibly even illegal. They hit 17 threes in Game 4. How is Cleveland supposed to compete with that? There was no amount of money David Stern could have paid the refs to help the Cavs win that game, or even that series. Cleveland made no adjustments and no open looks. And it seemed like every time Delonte West or Zydrunas Ilgauskas bricked another shot, the Magic would come right down in transition and bury an open shot to add insult to injury. Nothing was going to stop the Magic from trouncing the inferior Cavs, not even Lebron James.

So now the Magic roll into LA riding high and as confident as ever. And all of a sudden, people are beginning to question whether the Lakers are still the best team left in the postseason, and whether or not they can matchup with a seemingly un-matchable offense.

Defense usually win championships. But offenses usually aren't as good as Orlando's. It's been said that there are teams that live and die by the three. More often than not, those teams die. But Orlando might just be the healthiest three-point shooting team I have ever seen.

Speaking of health, I hear Jameer Nelson is trying to pull a Terrell Owens. After missing 40 regular season games and all of the playoffs with a shoulder injury, Nelson is trying to make a magical (so witty) return for the Finals. Is this a good idea? I really don't think so. I understand he averaged 27 points per game against the Lakers this season, and elevated his game to an all-star level, but he can't expect to return to playoff form after missing all those games. Alston has proven he can carry the load at point, and there's no need to risk causing controversy at this point on such an important stage. It must kill Nelson to watch his team embark on this remarkable run without him, but he needs to understand that it's not the time or place for him to return.

Nelson or not, the Magic will bring an unselfish offense with an onslaught of pure shooters and a powerful force in the paint. The Lakers will counter with a deep and athletic team of their own. They've got the experience now, as well as the best closer in the game. They also have the Zen master himself at coach, Phil Jackson. Don't expect him to double and triple down on Howard. He knows where the true threats on Orlando lie -- 23 feet 9 inches away from the basket. I expect the Lakers to use Gasol and Bynum interchangeably on Howard. This allows them to use the series' key player, Lamar Odom, on Rashard Lewis. Lewis is 6'10" 230, with a strong ability to take defenders off the dribble. Varejao was 6'11" 260, with no mobility whatsoever. Lamar Odom on the other hand, is 6'10" 230, with a strong ability to take defenders off the dribble as well. They're pretty much identical in body type and athleticism. Now that's a matchup. If Odom plays aggresive, and wins the point and rebounding battle with Lewis, there's no way the Lakers should lose. Kobe will be Kobe. I expect Fisher to be clutch as always. And Ariza's size, athleticism, and defensive prowess, should be an extremely valuable asset against the Magic as well.

My Finals Prediction:

Lakers 4-2: All in all, I think the 2-3-2 format for home-court advantage plays in the Lakers favor. I see them stealing one on the road, and protecting home court all the way. Odom will be the difference and Kobe will steal the show.

Unless Odom has a sweet tooth before the games.

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